The Lucifer heatwave that has brought scorching temperatures across Southern Europe has highlighted infrastructure shortcomings in Southeast Europe, while drought is taking its toll on the agriculture sector along the Adriatic coast.
Countries across the region issued extreme weather warnings to their citizens as temperatures reached the high thirties this weekend, passing 40°C in some parts of the region. While some states — such as Croatia, arguably worst hit by high temperatures recently — saw the weather break on August 6, in other parts of the region the heatwave is forecast to continue.
The authorities in Serbia, Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria urged their were urged to stay indoors and make sure they stay hydrated; despite these precautions, five people were reported to have died as a result of the extreme heat which also affected parts of France, Italy and Spain.
Croatia was hit by temperatures exceeding 40°C in some areas, with the red alert warning, issued for most of the country last week, still being active for some regions on August 6, even though temperatures peaked on August 2. The airport in Croatia’s second city Split recorded the highest temperature in Europe — 42.3°C — while local records were set in the cities of Sinj and Zadar.
Romania’s usually busy capital Bucharest was also hit by extreme temperatures, and the streets and parks were almost empty during the weekend as locals tried to find refuge by staying indoors or going to the cooler mountain resorts or to the seaside as the mercury nudged 40°C. One place that was busy was Therme, Europe’s largest water park which opened in the outskirts of the city last year. There were long queues outside the complex, and extra buses have been laid on recently to transport people from the city centre.
In general, the hot dry summer across most of the region has helped the tourism industry, which has also benefitted from increased coverage by budget airlines and political instability in rival destinations. Early data shows visitor numbers are up across Southeast Europe.
However, the intense heat recently has caused some tourist events and attractions to suffer. The extreme weather in Knin, Croatia, for example, which has seen the longest period of temperatures exceeding 40°C in its history, is likely to have kept people away from the festivities dedicated to the Day of Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving, which are traditionally held in the town, according to Total Croatia News. This year’s was one of the least attended festivities, with only around 8,000 participants.
The Adriatic coast aflame
The tourism industry has also been hit by wildfires that have affected large swathes of Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and most recently Macedonia.
Tirana called on Greece’s emergency services for help on August 3 as wildfires raged out of control in several parts of the country, approaching both the capital Tirana and Llogara National Park in the country’s southwest. Some opposition political parties are asking the authorities to declare state of emergency after seven new fires were registered in the last 24 hours. The most difficult situation is in the region of Dukat and Llogara where Greek planes are helping to fight the fires.
Outside help was also needed in Macedonia on August 4, with Bulgaria and Turkey sending reinforcements to help bring multiple forest fires under control. Two planes and water-dropping helicopters were used to extinguish the fires. The Macedonian authorities have declared a 30-day state of emergency in the southwestern region due to the wildfires that have been raging in recent days.
Several other regions in Macedonia were also hit by wildfires as a result of the extremely hot weather, with temperatures on August 6 reaching 42°C. The heatwave is expected to continue over the week.
There is no immediate information about damages from the fires, but according to latest information a large area of trees and houses have been burned. There are also reports of a burned body being discovered near Skopje.
This followed fires in both Croatia and Montenegro in July, which destroyed infrastructure and forced residents and tourists to evacuate at the height of the tourist season. A fire in Croatia endangered the suburbs of the country’s second city Split before being finally brought under control, causing damages estimated at almost €30mn. In neighbouring Montenegro, tourists were evacuated from the Lustica peninsula, one of the country’s tourist hotspots.
Another sector hit by the high temperatures and dry weather is agriculture. Croatia, one of the Southern European countries worst affected by drought this year, is expected to see a fall in production of grapes, olives and other crops. Meterologists in Albania say this is set to be the hottest summer in 200 years, with a negative impact on agriculture.
The temperatures in Serbia are also likely to affect agriculture, primarily corn production. According to an early estimate from the Institute for Corn Zemun Polje, a decrease of 40% is expected and it could seriously affect exports which brought about $346mn in 2016 to do country.
Infrastructure under pressure
Transport and energy infrastructure are under pressure too. With air conditioners switched on in homes, offices and hotels across the region, electricity consumption has been hiked, but at the same time countries that rely heavily on hydropower are already seeing a drop in generation.
In Croatia, the extreme temperatures, coming at a time when the Adriatic country is visited by tens of thousands of tourists, have driven power demand and sport process to record levels, Croatian grid operator HOPS told Reuters on August 4. Power consumption in Croatia hit a record 3,039 MWh on August 3, beating the previous record set in 2015. Croatia is able to meet 47% of its power demand, so higher imports are expected.
In Romania too, electricity consumption is expected to have increased dramatically. Romania’s spot market recorded a price of €125 per MWh, the highest in Europe, as the heatwave coincided with low hydro and wind energy generation connected to the weather conditions, although officials have claimed this is partly due to the decision of market regulator ANRE to scrap auctions as of June.
Slovenia's environmental agency declared a red alert in late July, and generation at power stations on the Soca and Drava rivers was down by a third in the first seven months of the year, and significant drops in production were also recorded at power stations on the Sava river, Slovenian Press Agency reported. Slovenia's biggest energy group HSE was forced to make up for lower hydropower production with coal generation. Gen energija, which operates hydro power plants on the Sava, meanwhile told the STA that the river was lower than average.
Lucifer has also turned up the heat on the often criticised transport systems in countries like Romania, where the lack of investment in infrastructure is a frequently voiced bugbear of businesspeople.
During the heatwave, Romania’s national road company CNAIR has imposed restrictions for heavy trucks in the most affected regions. At the end of last week, CNAIR announced that trucks weighing more than 7.5 tonnes were temporarily banned from using the motorways and national roads in the counties affected by the heatwave in order to protect infrastructure. Railways operator CFR has introduced speed restrictions, with the average train travelling 20-30 kilometres per hour slower than usual, local media reported.
Meanwhile, in Croatia on August 6, traffic was closed for buses, motorcycles and caravans on a section of the Adriatic highway due to strong winds. Thunderstorms expected in some parts of the countries may affect water transport too.
Hotter, drier summers are likely to become the norm in Southeast Europe, if global warming continues. A report from German development agency GIZ, which is carrying out a seven-year study of climate change adaptation in the Western Balkans, forecasts that “Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro, as well as Serbia, will be particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change… it is generally expected that there will be a rise in average annual temperatures, for example of up to 5.6°C in Albania, and decreased annual precipitation, for example a reduction of 5% in Macedonia.”
Across Europe, deaths caused by extreme weather could reach 152,000 a year — 50 times the current level — by 2100, according to research published by The Lancet Planetary Health on August 5.
It anticipates a sharp increase in fatalities connected with coastal flooding, wildfires, river floods and windstorms. “By 2071–2100, about a third of the population in northern Europe and almost all of those in southern Europe could be exposed to a weather-related hazard annually,” the report says.
Fighting wildfires in Albania.
Bucharest residents leave town for the mountains, or cool off on Lake Herestrau.
Therme, Europe's largest water park, on the outskirts of Bucharest.